Over the past three weeks, the Pascagoula football team has seen just about everything. From winning the region 4 class 5A district championship by virtue of a four-way tiebreaker to winning a first round playoff game by virtue of a COVID-19 forfeiture to winning a second round playoff game by virtue of a game-winning field goal in overtime.
Now, the Panthers are back in the South State finals for the first time in a long time.
Quarterback Keilon Parnell said, “We’ve been waiting for this moment ever since June 1st. We’ve been talking about it the whole time. It’s finally here, and now we’ve just got to make the most of it.”
Head Coach Lewis Sims said, “In all honesty, June 1st. When these guys started showing up on June 1st our expectation was to be here, to contend for a championship. So no, it’s not surprising to be here. But it sure is gratifying.”
More than five months in the making, Pascagoula certainly has a lot to be thankful for leading up to the fourth Friday in November. “It feels pretty strange. I’ve never been here before, and last year we were one step away from being here. And just the feeling of coaches making memories, taking pictures. I asked Coach, why are you taking pictures? He said you never know when you can be here again.”
The Panthers haven’t been where they are now since 2012 and they haven’t been where they’re trying to go since 2012. Middle linebacker Kristopher Elly said, “Watching guys like Jaylen Smith come out of here and play in those games and know that those were the greats that played ahead of us and now we know we’re the next ones to do it, that really means a lot. But at the same time, we’ve got to stay humble and realize that it’s all on us. We don’t have anyone to save us. We don’t have anyone to back us up. So, we have to come in every day, day in and day out, and give it our all, 110 percent.”
The Region 4 Class 5A champs have been pretty good at saving themselves all year long, especially against Hattiesburg. Pascagoula outscored the Tigers 30-0 in the fourth quarter of an early October regular season come back win and then doubled down on Friday.
The hero was Caden Chisholm, who kicked the game-tying field goal as time expired in regulation before booting home the game-winner in a 35-32 overtime thriller. “That’s more or less one of those ones you’ve got to be there. I was on the end and once he kicked it, I turned around to see if he made it or not or whatever and then next thing I know, I see our quarterback Keilon and Caden sprinting down the field and I was trying to catch up with Caden to give him a big hug but I couldn’t.”
“(Did you realize Caden was that fast?) Nah., I didn’t even see Caden. I was already down there. I think I ran a 4-flat 100.”
“That’s just pure joy, pure elation. Watching your kids execute and to be able to walk off the field victorious to get them to South State and the opportunity to go to Jackson, that’s what we played for all year long and to see that finally come to fruition, there’s no feeling like it in the coaching world.”
As the focus now shifts to West Jones in less than 72 hours, it’s hard not to think about all the Panthers have overcome to even get to this moment.
Not just losing two games due to COVID-19, but even in the years prior to this with the class of 2021 going 0-7 as seventh graders and then 1-10 as sophomores on varsity to now being just two wins away from the program’s first gold ball since 1987. “It just feels better to be out here with my brothers and knowing that we’re fighting for something that this school hasn’t done in a really long time.”
“Same mentality. Like I said, we beat COVID. I feel like it’s more of a mental game now. But I feel like if we beat COVID, we can beat West Jones.”
“They followed our WARFACE mentality that we would be able to be practicing during Thanksgiving. And it’s a dream come true for every one of these young men, and as coaches it’s the opportunity you always want to have is to practice during Thanksgiving.”
As we learned on stop number eight on News 25’s 25 Teams in 25 Days, WARFACE stands for work, accountability, respect, family, attitude, character, and enthusiasm.
The Panthers and Mustangs will kick things off from Pascagoula’s War Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.